Doug Hoffman is a favorite of tea party activists and national conservative groups. But Matt Doheny has drawn widespread support from the North Country's Republican Party. Brian Mann caught up with Doheny campaigning in Willsboro and has our story.
Doheny's not a farmer. He grew up in Alexandria Bay and worked for Deutsche Bank and then a financial consultant company called Fintech Advisory. But today he's scribbling notes on things like alfalfa pests and alternative fuels.
It's this attention to tiny, hyper local issues that won the support of Ron Jackson, Republican Party chair here in Essex County. "I think the local's the more important, I think that's why Matt's been so well received...I think that's very important to people, they want that local connection," Jackson said.
This is one of the key divides in this year's Republican primary--local bread and butter issues versus big national stuff. Doug Hoffman's campaign is focused on conservative philosophical issues from immigration to cap and trade and the federal deficit. Mark Berry heads the North's Country's largest Tea Party organization, UNYTEA, which endorsed Hoffman. He says Doheny's focus on backyard concerns is a common mistake for Republicans.
"It's one of the maladies affecting the Republican Party. At the hierarchy, at the top of the Republican Party, are people that are concerned primarily with types of local issues: pork barrel. 'Give me spending for my project and my town and my county and my college or at my corporation.' And unfortunately that kind of attitude replicated 435 times across the country has contributed significantly to the situation we're in now which is the verge of bankruptcy. Doug Hoffman does have and should not apologize for having a national and international perspective on this office," Berry said.
Some conservatives worry that Doheny's focus on local concerns is a way of hiding the fact that he's not an enthusiastic member of their movement. Indeed Hoffman's campaign has worked hard to paint Doheny as a liberal, pointing out that he contributed to the campaign of Dede Scozzafava, who dropped out of last year's house race and wound up endorsing Democrat Bill Owens. Doheny has pushed back, arguing that on the vast majority of issues his conservative credentials are every bit as solid as Hoffman's. The proof is in the endorsements and the dollars. "We're quite successful fortunately in terms of endorsements both from the independents' party and the Republican Party--pretty much a clean sweep there. My message has resonated with people in terms of raising funds," Doheny said.
Doheny has out-fundraised Hoffman so far. He's combined the funds with his personal wealth to go up early with TV and radio ads in which he says he supports "a balanced budget and a tax code that rewards hard work and gives small businesses the opportunity to build jobs." Money for campaign staff and advertisements could be a key factor here. Dede Scozzafava was forced out of the race last year in part because her fund-raising dried up. That won't be a problem for Doheny. But there is one concrete and volatile issue that divides these two candidates--and that's abortion.
Ron Jackson from Essex County acknowledges that Doheny's position has angered some social conservatives. "The only people that don't seem to like him are the right-to-lifers because he believes it's a rights issue more than anything else. He was raised Catholic, he abhors abortion personally but he doesn't feel that the state should be telling a woman what she can and can't do in the first three months," Jackson said.
Dede Scozzafava's campaign was damaged by her support for same sex marriage and abortion is clearly a topic that Doheny is uncomfortable talking about. But he argues that his narrow support for a woman's right to choose combined with opposition to partial birth abortion matches the views of many North Country voters. Doheny says that he's "against federal funding for abortions" and partial birth abortions and will vote "the way [the North Country's right-to-life community] want[s] at the end of the day."
In a sense this primary race will be one measure of the kind of candidate that Republican and conservative voters are looking for nationwide and how much independence on the issues they're willing to tolerate. It will also be a test of wills between the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party. One question that might not be answered until November is whether those two factions will reunite to take on Democratic candidate Bill Owens.